TV

‘Ms. Marvel’ Co-Creator Sana Amanat Tells Us About Kamala Khan’s MCU Journey And How The Character Dodged A Not-So-Great Name

There’s a moment during Ms. Marvel where Kamala Khan (played by Iman Vellani) is pleading with her parents to attend an event and to trust her, then makes a reference to how it’s not like she’s going to do cocaine. For the record, I haven’t been tracking the MCU’s use of drug references, but it instantly struck me as something different. Dialogue we don’t usually hear from this universe. Ms. Marvel is a different kind of show, in that, at least so far, it’s as much about being a teenager in high school as it is being a superhero. And Ms. Marvel’s co-creater, Sama Amanat, is hoping that people who have never watched the MCU before (there has to be some left, right?) will want to watch Ms. Marvel.

It was 2013 when Amanat (who is now Director of Content and Character Development at Marvel) co-created the character of Kamala Khan for Marvel Comics. After cycling through a few names for her character – according to Amanat, “Drone” was considered – they decided a teenage girl from New Jersey, with strict parents organically, would look across the river to New York City and be infatuated with Carol Danvers who had just changed her title from Ms. Marvel to Captain Marvel, so Ms. Marvel was available.

Ahead, Amanat takes us through how Ms. Marvel came to the MCU and also the time President Obama called Amanat “a superhero” and how she really should bring that up more often.

Ms. Marvel, the character, who was created not really that long ago is now in the MCU. Are you on cloud nine?

I certainly am. I feel like I just, I don’t know what cloud I’m on because it’s all so hazy and dizzy and crazy and lovely at the same time. I feel so happy that Marvel wanted to continue to tell her story in this way and that I was able to be a part of it on top of it. So it feels really wonderful and also really nerve-racking, now putting her out there in the world in the biggest way possible. I just hope people will love her and her world.

Right, obviously this is a very popular character in the books, but so many people are going to be introduced to this character who don’t know her yet because of this series.

Yeah, yeah, absolutely. I think people who love Kamala obviously are going to gravitate towards the series. I think what’s really exciting for us is there’s going to be a whole new world of Marvel fans, and non-Marvel fans, I think, that are going to be coming to the show and experiencing something different. And that’s what I’m really most excited about is bringing in even just more fans and people who might not necessarily be – and Kevin Feige was saying this earlier – might not necessarily be Marvel fans. But, perhaps, this will be their first Marvel experience and then they’ll want to go experience the rest of the universe. I think that is really special and cool.

President Obama called you a superhero…

Oh my God. That was like…

I would never let anyone forget that if I were you.

Yeah, exactly. It’s so funny you say that. I actually should talk about that more! I don’t know why I don’t.

Seriously, you really should. Everyone would know that if I were you.

Coolest experience of my life was introducing Barack Obama at the White House. Definitely very trippy. And the funny thing that happened actually, and it was great: It was at a women’s summit and it was really cool. I did the intro and then he comes up to me, gives me a kiss on the cheek, greatest moment of my life. I’m walking away and then of course my heel gets stuck on the carpet.

Oh no.

And the President of the United States is right there, and I’m struggling to get off stage. So it was a very me moment, but truly that’s definitely one of the honors of my life.

I would not have guessed Ms. Marvel would be the first I would hear the word cocaine in the MCU.

That’s actually so funny you say that because we thought a lot about that.

I bet you did.

Are we going to get in trouble for this? Is this the first time we’re doing it? And whatever. And it just felt like, what was funny about it also was just Iman’s performance, about her stumbling into that wording and her stumbling into that… It’s just so funny because she doesn’t mean to say it, and then she says it, and she’s like, “Oh, wait. What did I just say?” I think that’s why it worked, just because we’re not trying to talk about drugs. She’s like, “I don’t do drugs or drink or do any of that stuff.” And just, “Let me go to the diner. That’s all I’m asking for.” So yeah.

So when do you first hear this is officially happening? When do you get that news? Because when you first even created this character, correct me if I’m wrong, that’s the year Iron Man 3 came out…

Wow, right.

So to get from there to now, what happens?

We heard some rumblings relatively early on after the character was created because it was such a success. And I think a lot of people are like, when is there going to be a TV show? What are you guys going to do next? And apparently, I’m hearing this for the first time, that’s what Kevin was getting: Questions like that all the time himself. And so I think he was very much attuned to it. And he’s constantly thinking about how to expand the universe, so I think this was sort of in the arena of potentially to be in development. I only really found out it was official about, I think, maybe four years ago? Four or five years ago where I was like, okay, they’re going to do this. This is amazing. I hope I could be a part of it. That would be wonderful. I’ve been at the company for 12 years now, so I kind of understood what their development process was, but the idea of Ms. Marvel, is it really going to be a show? Is it really going to be a movie? I didn’t really believe it until that moment. Really until the moment where they announced it at D23, and they’re like, “And Ms. Marvel,” and there was such a huge, amazing moment. God, and now we’re here. It’s crazy.

I understand why, in the comics, Kamala uses the Ms. Marvel name. But I’m curious with you, did you debate that? Between that or something completely new?

Yeah, 100 percent. We actually were – G. Willow Wilson and I – were thinking a lot about the name of the character. And we had some pretty bad names at first while we were ideat-ing what the story was.

Can you say one?

Drone.

Yeah. Ms. Marvel is better than Drone.

Drone? Ew, I was like, that’s just… is she boring? What is that? Is this her power? Or she can go whip around and spy on people. I don’t even know what we were thinking. Oddly, it kind of all happened at the same time. We’re realizing that we wanted to tell a story about identity and a young woman of color looking across the river and seeing these big, beautiful superheroes who look nothing like Kamala save the day every day, save the world every day. And then having the mantle of Ms. Marvel open – Carol Danvers had become Captain Marvel – and I felt like it was a really cool branding opportunity to just grab onto. People know what Ms. Marvel is, so let’s lean into it. And of all the people that Kamala would be a fan of, it makes sense for it to be Carol Danvers, right?

She’s blonde, beautiful, tall, strong, blue-eyed, everything Kamala Khan is not. And let’s tell the story through the metaphor of that. We don’t have to talk so much about it, but we can just show it. So I think it kind of all worked. It worked with the story that we were telling, and it also helped that Ms. Marvel was a familiar name for a character, and we kind of just jumped onto it.

Like you said, a lot of people who may not even be fans of the MCU are going to watch this because it’s about a kid in high school and really reflects that extremely well. But you’re kind of talking to kids, and with everything going on right now in the news, espicially with guns, do you think about that? It seems like a scary time.

I do. I definitely do. I have nephews and nieces who are Kamala’s age and younger and older, and I’m very conscious of how influenced, one, not only by entertainment, but they’re influenced by Marvel content, very much so. And so this is, I think, one of the first shows where not only are we speaking to that audience in terms of just the pure demographic of the characters and the age of the characters, but really in a way that I think is we’re diving in. We’re delving into the world. We’re going to high school. We’re going to her community center mosque. We’re going to her living, having dinner at the dining table many times. It’s a very immersive experience.

And I think ultimately, when they have a resilience and an ability to really sort of amplify their own platforms and their own voices and try to use it for good, despite the challenges and the difficulties that might be out there, they actually have this inner strength within them. And I think that’s because Kamala and her friends and her community have that, and hoping that they’re able to find that in their own communities or find communities who will be able to offer that to them. I think that’s incredibly important.

You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.

×